• close family • small boat • big world •

About as High as a Quail Could Fly

August 31, 2013

by Greg

This has nothing directly to do with sailing, boat life, or cruising.  I hope you'll bear with me.

Mr. Gentry
My dad left when I was seven.  He was a successful doctor, but apparently there was a thing or two that wasn't going right, so he split on my mom and me and my two younger brothers. (We brothers pieced details together later; my mom would never say a bad word about him).  Fortunately before he left he bought me a horse for my seventh birthday. 

This was not a Northern Virginia horse situation.  This was not English saddles, white fences, jump gates, posting. This was big western saddles, a little bit of roping, some barrel racing, campfires, cowboy boots, and me trimming my own horse's hooves.  There wasn't much horse whispering going on.  This was Oklahoma 1967.

It was a strange mix.  We were left living in a fairly new housing development, but old was all around.   I used to mount up my green Schwinn Stringray and ride a mile or so to the drugstore and read Archie and Batman and Superman comics.  Then I'd ride another mile or two over to my horse, Bonnie.  I would saddle her up and ride down the railroad tracks for miles, training her not to bolt when the slow-moving freight trains came by.  I would dismount and tie her to the parked freight cars so that I could 
climb on them and in them.  I loved riding all the way past the grain elevator to the main line where the fast trains were. I loved smashing pennies on the tracks.  I stayed awake at night listening to those train whistles. 

We kept my horse Bonnie with Mr. Gentry.  I still remember first seeing that place: old white clapboard farmhouse, some old out buildings and a corral, some pasture land, a root cellar, and an old well with a hand pump.  And pecan trees.  Mr. Gentry taught me how to handle horses and taught me how to ride.  And then he let me do it. 

Mr. Gentry even in his sixties was big and strong.  His forearms were cooked by the sun and scarred by horses, barbed wire, and who knows what else, but they were big and tough.  He grew up near Ft. Sill, Oklahoma hunting, fishing, running around the mountains with descendants of the American Indians who were "moved" to Ft. Sill (including Geronimo's relatives).  

He took to football early, and he became a fearsome player for the Oklahoma Sooners.  He became their 6th All-American.  He was the first person I ever saw "take out his teeth". (It freaked me out.)  His teeth were knocked out playing football.  Many of his knuckles had been broken as well.  Oh yes, the "about as high as a quail"?  That was what they said about his punts, and he would often tackle the punt receiver himself.  

He did some boxing. He fought in world war II.  His wife told me he landed in France in a glider before D-Day.  He would never say much about this.   After WWII, he roughnecked and did other stuff in the oil business in Wyoming for many years.  But what he mostly did in Wyoming was guide pack trains into the mountains for hunting and trout fishing. He had many run-ins with elk, mule deer, bear, and the occasional cougar.  He eventually came back to Oklahoma to be near family, which is when I met him.  

But I only found out all that stuff later.  What I knew about Mr. Gentry when I was eight and  nine and ten was that he taught me all kinds of knots. He taught me how to pack a horse and string a barbed-wire fence.  He taught me how to train a horse, how to ride a horse that isn't really trained at all, and how to rejuvenate a saddle.  He taught me how to catch a horse with an empty bucket and how to ride a horse without saddle, bridle or even halter.  He taught me how to skin a rabbit, how to be alert in the woods, and how to build just the fire I needed and nothing bigger.

This is all great stuff.  But in retrospect it's not the important stuff.  The important stuff is a little harder to describe.  Mr. Gentry was the strongest and at the same time calmest, gentlest, most patient man I have ever met.  He had no need for attention; I cannot recall him ever doing anything vain or pretentious.  He was as strong and imperturbable as a block of oak. I could as a young boy ask him anything with no fear of embarrassment or condescension. I could ask him as many times as I wanted with no fear of impatience.

Even into my 20s I never called Mr. Gentry by his first name - Cash. But I named my son after him.  

Today would have been Cash Gentry's 104th birthday.  I wish I could thank him.

Lisa said...

Hey, Greg, thank you for this wonderful story. I bet Mr. Gentry knew how much you appreciated him at the time, and knowing you as he did, understood how thankful you would be later in life.

Jill said...

He would be most proud of you, Greg- you have paid it forward to countless young people who have had their lives changed in a positive way by your guidance. My son is one of them :)
Enjoy the journey out there.